Perhaps you’ve heard the buzz about but haven’t yet watched a show called The 100. If so, consider this your recruitment mission and my love letter to a series that has accomplished more in two seasons than most veteran shows have in five.
LIVE TOGETHER, DIE ALONE
Imagine a television series that successfully intermingles the politics of Battlestar Galactica, the extraordinary circumstances of LOST and the savage youth of Lord of the Flies – set in a remarkably progressive, brutal post-apocalyptic world. What starts off as homage to myriad beloved TV shows quickly evolves into incredibly unique storytelling and rich characters that don’t fit into perfectly preconceived conventions. That is The 100.
Based loosely on the original Kass Morgan book The 100, the show has since expanded that universe and created a distinctive microcosm and story unlike anything else on the small screen right now.
The 100 takes what you might expect from a sci-fi show on a network like The CW, hurtles that notion rapidly down from space and then crashes into your brain like a wrench to the head from a tiny whip-smart mechanic named Raven.
- Side note: As a quick introduction for those who don’t know me, I wrote weekly in-depth episode analysis of LOST for many years when it was on the air, and fellow fans of that show may recognize Easter eggs in my posts about The 100. And although I do make reference to LOST a few times in this article, it is imperative that I point out from the get-go that the The 100 is NOT trying to imitate or become the next LOST; this show has developed into an exceptionally bold and phenomenal series on its own!
The basic, spoiler-free premise of The 100 is that 97 years ago, Earth was destroyed, along with most of civilization. The attack was nuclear, and the only 400 people to survive were up in 12 linked space stations called The Ark. The number of survivors grew by a few thousand over the years as new generations were born on The Ark, but they started to run out of air and drastic measures had to be taken. The Council, the Ark’s governing collective, decide to send 100 young prisoners down to Earth to test inhabitability. Once on the ground, they face and settle down in an entirely new world of experiences and enemies.
Much like those who crashed landed on the mysterious island on LOST, each of the formerly imprisoned young Ark survivors on The 100 are immediately granted a clean slate (albeit unbeknownst to them at the time); a fresh start with new opportunities and ultimately destiny fulfillment. True colors emerge, internal switches are flipped and revolutionary rebirth is fueled by the necessity to adapt to the strange new milieu.
FOLLOW THE LEADER
This is an unconventional television series for many reasons. Gender, race, disability and sexual orientation are profoundly irrelevant in the world of The 100, 97 years from now. The characters aren’t written as representations and the show isn’t trying to make a statement; they simply reflect reality, and a society that has evolved despite the destruction of almost all of humanity.
A majority of the lead characters on The 100 are 17-23 years old; the youth rule and reign on the ground, responsible for themselves and free from adult supervision in the sky. But on this show, the teenagers are far from typical. They are forced to grow up immediately, under duress at all times, and many develop into the leaders that they were destined to become or perish before having the chance to do so. The strong survive and triumph or fail, while facing a barrage of strenuous situations. Once these prisoners arrive on Earth, it is all nature – with very little time for nurture.
Another wonderfully differentiating fact about The 100 is that a majority of the leaders on the show are women – and none are recognizable stereotypes. They are all written as strong, take-action characters, with no hint or promotion of a feminist agenda. Some of the female characters were trained and some are thrust into positions of power, but The 100 is set in a future where gender is a non-issue when it comes to leadership.
It is also laudable that none of the characters feel the need to point out that women are in charge, nor does anyone really complain about the ages of their leaders. Blissfully refreshing in both respects!
HEARTS AND MINDS
Despite what you may have heard about an infamous kiss or specific ‘ships’ (rooting for romantic character pairings), The 100 is NOT a show about relationships. This is a series about surviving, facing unknown enemies with equal amounts of innate fear and naive confidence; it is about loyalty, family, friendship and transformation.
As with any show, characters on The 100 do pair up from time to time. But it is far more about making connections under and during seemingly dire circumstances. Those that do connect on emotional or physical levels tend to find brief solace in one another, during rare moments shared away from the horrors of loss and nameless adversaries.
THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS
Honestly, there are so many other details to appreciate about The 100. The writers seem to have made a specific choice to feature very little exposition (after the “Pilot”), which is rare and admirable. Instead, much is implied visually. They are very aware of how smart their audience is and how fans pay very close attention to every detail! The writers don’t have to waste precious time explaining; they simply and successfully move the story forward.
This show is meticulously well crafted, designed, produced and choreographed, with magnificently intricate and bold costumes, intense action sequences and bloody battles. On The 100, the stakes are high, the peril at hand does not subside for long, and the pace of the series accelerates in Season 2 in a way that enhances the stories interlaced throughout.
There are no weak character links on The 100 – emotional resonance with just about every single character is established and achieved in just two seasons, thanks to the prodigious talent of the actors on the show. Australian actress Eliza Taylor, who has an undeniably powerful on-screen presence and gift for her craft, leads the series as Clarke Griffin. You will also be unable to avert your eyes as you watch Marie Avgeropoulos’s character Octavia Blake undergo a significant metamorphosis from Ark prisoner to Earth warrior; it is quite something to behold.
The show is anchored by a trio of accomplished veteran actors, Henry Ian Cusick, Paige Turco and Isaiah Washington, who bring a necessary depth and wisdom to their roles as Ark leaders on The 100 – completely and beautifully balancing out this stellar cast.
A TALE OF TWO CITIES
As was the case with LOST, when the beaches and jungles became iconic characters on the show themselves – the lush forests of Vancouver truly play an integral role on The 100 (much more so than other shows that film in the same location on occasion). In S2, the designers constructed a stunning set nestled between mountains in a Vancouver valley that rivals the Oceanic 815 crash set on the beach in Hawaii. In the interest of remaining spoiler-free, I will not elaborate about exactly what this set piece is.
STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND
The costumes on The 100, created by Costume Designer Katia Stano and her team, also brilliantly illustrate the evolution of the characters as they adapt to their stark surroundings. There is a definite Mad Max, appropriately post-apocalyptic grit and look to the costuming, which really sets the tone for each episode and scene.
In addition, there are many clever enigmas for you to decipher on The 100, such as the locations and names of former U.S. cities scattered throughout what is left of Earth. And starting in S2, pay close attention to the shiny new opening titles for the show, as many regions are highlighted (in a more modern version of the spectacular Game of Thrones opening credits).
ONE OF US
Joining the already impressive (and predominantly female) writing staff of The 100 for S3 is Javier Grillo-Marxuach, a former LOST producer/writer and creator of the canceled-too-soon series The Middleman. The addition of Javi further convinces me that those making decisions at The CW and The 100 are equally committed to creating an even stronger third season and beyond.
Huge bonus points must be awarded to The 100 for working with the great Liz Phair, who wrote original music for the series along with Evan Frankfort and Marc Dauer! And while the show features popular commercial music on occasion in the first season (which I find distracting), thankfully they rely far more on their dramatic score in the second season. Overall, the sound design on The 100 is quite visceral and effective.
Many of the characters are named after famous writers, like Octavia Butler, Arthur C. Clarke and H.G. Wells. And a note of recognition must be given to David J. Peterson, who is responsible for creating the fantastic new language ‘Trigedasleng’ for The 100. Peterson also creates original languages for Game of Thrones (HBO) and Defiance (Syfy).
ONE OF THEM
Have I also mentioned the insanely passionate fans of The 100? They are a welcoming, strong, opinionated, intelligent community – inspired to create beautiful art and imaginative fan fiction about their favorite characters on the show. Do yourself a favor after you’ve caught up with the series, and peruse the incredible variety of art on Tumblr dedicated to this show.
THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN
The cast and crew of The 100 are VERY fan-friendly and interactive online, from the actors to the costume designers to the writing staff. Show runner/executive producer Jason Rothenberg in particular is quite engaged in the conversation and a positive presence on Twitter.
THE WHOLE TRUTH
The CW has successfully reinvented their brand and the network is known for promoting fan favorite series like Arrow, The Flash, Jane the Virgin, Supernatural and The Vampire Diaries, but The 100 has certainly earned a spot up on the marquee and in the 2015-2016 marketing plan right alongside these other stellar CW shows.
I would ask you to be patient when you start to watch The 100, as the show really starts to take off in every conceivable and exciting way in episode 4 of S1. Despite what you might initially think, character development on this series is far from formulaic. Of course they all start off looking fresh and pretty, but that changes quickly and appropriately. And there are actually fewer flashback scenes as the series progresses, which I find to be better for momentum on this particular show.
At its core, The 100 is one of the most progressive shows in the current television landscape, and this series will definitely appeal to all genders and ages.
THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME
It is safe to say that The 100 truly gained its footing as a series and discovered its dedicated fan community by the end of S1, which is notable because that follows the same ascending trajectory as LOST. But it is essential to point out that The 100 isn’t at ALL trying to become the next LOST; it is transforming into something special on its own, and succeeding. That is the best possible comparison and compliment, and one that I have yet to anoint any show since LOST debuted eleven years ago.
So let The 100 be your fun homework assignment for the summer! Binge-watch the first two seasons before S3 begins in the fall. S1 is available via Netflix; you can purchase all episodes of Seasons 1-2 via iTunes or the S1 DVD on Amazon. I guarantee that you will be intrigued during the first few episodes, captivated by the S1 finale and absolutely riveted by the end of S2. The 100 is so worth the investment of your time, and it should earn a DVR season pass by the time you’re caught up.
May we meet again! Next week I will be taking long look in the rear view mirror of Seasons 1-2 of The 100, posting an extensive deep-dive analysis of the show thus far.
I will be covering all new episodes of The 100 for SciFi Mafia as well when the show returns in the fall, deconstructing each new episode every week. I hope you return to absorb, enjoy and engage in constructive commentary!
[Editor’s Note: SciFi Mafia is thrilled to have Jo Garfein grace our hideout halls with her presence, and our site with her posts. If you’d like to learn more about her organization Cancer Gets LOST, click here.]
The 100, starring Eliza Taylor, Paige Turco, Thomas McDonell, Marie Avgeropoulos, Bob Morley, Christopher Larkin, Devon Bostick, Isaiah Washington, Ricky Whittle, Lindsey Morgan, Richard Harmon and Henry Ian Cusick, returns for Season 3 in the fall on The CW.